A top donor to the University of Alabama who urged students to boycott the institution three years ago over his opposition against the state’s anti-abortion law has donated $200,000 to a political action committee supporting Katie Britt’s Senate campaign.
Representatives for Britt, who is running on an anti-abortion and a “Christian conservative principles” platform, say that Hugh Culverhouse Jr.’s donation will not affect her views on the hot-button issue of abortion.
“Given the massive amount of people lining up behind Katie’s conservative Alabama First message, there are bound to be people with a wide range of beliefs on a host of issues supporting her candidacy,” said Sean Ross, spokesman for the Britt campaign. “That does not influence her beliefs.”
Culverhouse, a lawyer and real estate investor from South Florida, also said he’s had a change of heart. In an interview this week with AL.com, Culverhouse admits he could have handled a high-profile dispute with the university’s board of directors differently.
“Could I have handled my opposition of what I felt was a bad law? Could I have handled it differently? Hell yeah. Do I wish I had? No question,” Culverhouse said about the 2019 friction with the school over the Legislature’s abortion ban.
The friction between Culverhouse and the university led to the school giving back a whopping $26.5 million donation – the biggest donation ever made to the university – and have his name removed from the law school.
Culverhouse was a pro-choice advocate in 2019. He donated $250,000 that September to Planned Parenthood Southeast in support of the organization’s new building in Birmingham.
But three years later, Culverhouse said he will support the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending decision on Roe vs. Wade.
A leaked draft ruling in a pending Mississippi case indicates the high court is preparing to strike down federal constitutional protections to abortion rights that have been in place since 1973.
“I will absolutely follow whatever they say,” said Culverhouse. “The second that the Supreme Court disavows what is the law today, then that will be my standpoint. I’m a federal lawyer.”
Despite the comments, Culverhouse’s recent pro-choice stances and contributions to pro-choice groups could loom as campaign fodder in the final weeks before the May 24 Republican primary.
Britt, like the other Republicans running for political office this year, is running ads touting strong anti-abortion views.
“That kind of large contribution from a pro-abortion activist to Katie Britt is disconcerting and is a red flag,” said U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville. Britt, according to recent polling, is the frontrunner in the Senate contest with Brooks trailing in second place and Army veteran Mike Durant in a close third.
A Durant campaign spokesman, on Friday, said Britt is a “political insider” whose campaign is “fueled by pro-abortion donors” and the “Washington establishment.”
“Alabama needs a pro-life conservative fighter in the Senate to ensure we overturn Roe v. Wade, not weak-kneed insider Katie Boyd Britt,” the Durant campaign said in a statement.
Culverhouse donated twice separately to the Alabama Conservatives Fund, a Super PAC supportive of the Britt campaign. The two separate $100,000 donations were made in January and February to the Super PAC advertising itself as an organization supportive of candidates “who will bring true Christian conservative Alabama values to Washington” that includes “defending the unborn.”
Dalton Dismukes, executive director of the super PAC, said Culverhouse is “committed to electing conservatives” in Alabama.
He also noted that Culverhouse has given to plenty of political campaigns over the years, including recently to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Culverhouse, himself, says he’s given money to support GOP politicians including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, and Florida Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan. He’s also donated to PACs supportive of Senate and House Republicans, and to a variety of Florida local politicians who are all GOP.
Culverhouse is also a Democratic donor and gave to Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election, according to data compiled by the website Open Secrets.
“I am an enigma,” said Culverhouse. “People will take one portion of me an extrapolate that (to) all to me.”
Culverhouse said his dad, Hugh Culverhouse Sr., who was the original owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was also “very large in Planned Parenthood.”
But Culverhouse Jr. said he’s “so far right of center that I probably make people in the state of Alabama look like Democrats.”
His viewpoints on military affairs got some national attention last year.
Culverhouse took out a full-page ad last August in the Wall Street Journal and New York Post critical of President Biden’s handling of Afghanistan.
The ads created some identify confusion. A Facebook photo of the ad was shared over 20,000 times with the caption claiming it was “paid for by the former owner” of the Buccaneers. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in a tweet, credited the ad to the “former owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”
Culverhouse Sr. died in 1995, and the team’s ownership transferred at the time to the Glazer family. Culverhouse Jr. told USA Today that he served as an NFL representative for his father in 1994. He’s had not role in an NFL since then.
Culverhouse remains enthusiastic about defense-related issues and told AL.com that is one of the reasons he’s given to Rogers, who is the top Republican on the U.S. Armed Services Committee.
He has also given $1 million to the Ukraine crisis through UNICEF.
“I don’t understand why our military is not like Reagan’s which destroyed the Iron Curtain,” Culverhouse said. “I look at our Defense Department, and it’s a damned disgrace. That’s why I support Mike Rogers. He’s pro-defense.”
Despite the 2019 dust-up with the university, Culverhouse remains a top donor. The family continues to provide to scholarships at the Business School, including $3 million since 2020 to support the Two Iron Scholarships that was set up to honor his late mother.
“I’ve given millions after millions after millions and my wife has given $500,000 for the ballet program,” said Culverhouse, whose parents were Alabama natives. “My support for the state of Alabama, and my support for the school, hasn’t stopped one bit. It won’t ever stop.”
Culverhouse said he’s unconcerned with criticism about his past abortion views linked to Britt’s candidacy.
“If you look at who I’ve given money to … if you think Mike Rogers is pro-choice, then I’m going to wear a dress from now on,” Culverhouse said. “Katie is not pro-choice.”
Jess Brown, a retired political science professor at the Athens State University and a longtime observer of state politics, said the recency of Culverhouse’s conflict with the University of Alabama over the hot-button issue of abortion, and the substantial contribution to the Britt campaign, makes the link “fair game” in a political campaign.
“She has to be a 100 percent political animal and respond effectively to voters in a Republican primary that requires her to be pro-life,” Brown said.
But abortion remains an issue with a lot of nuances, Brown said. The Alabama Legislature’s 2019 law made abortion at any stage of pregnancy a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison for the provider, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
Polling shows that sizable majorities in both political parties believe abortion should be legal when a woman’s life or health is threatened. According to a Pew Research poll, 56% of Republicans say abortion should be legal when the pregnancy is because of rape, with 23% saying it should be illegal.
“What you see and hear and read often is the opinions of people who are very strident (about abortion) one way or the other, but that’s not mainstream America,” Brown said, adding that polling shows the country is “generically pro-choice,” but that people also often hold “some pro-life positions.”
Republicans, in recent weeks, have been critical of abortion polling.
“It’s a gray area,” Brown said. “But (Britt) has to be a political animal and she has to be clearly pro-life and anti-abortion.”
Said Ross, “Katie makes it crystal clear on the campaign trail that she will always strongly defend the sacred right to life and fight tirelessly for Alabama’s Christian conservative values.”
This story was updated at 10:46 a.m. on Friday, May 13, 2022, to include a statement from the Mike Durant campaign.